It has been over 2 years since I have posted anything here. This is partly due to the fact that we haven’t done anything save for getting married, moving home, buying a house, having a baby and living through a global pandemic (to be continued). Our worlds – both micro and macro – are different now, but it hasn’t stopped us seeking another challenge.
Whilst living in Malaysia and China I did not post when we were stationed at home – and we did consider both home for a time. However, our experience in quarantine during our first fortnight in Thailand is something I needed to write down before I disregard it as two weeks of far-fetched or embellished memories of dystopia. Another reason for writing this is for the sake of anyone who happens to stumble here hoping to find solace in the fact that someone else has lived through 14 nights in a solitary hotel room with a baby.
So, Thailand is our new home and I have an exciting role at a fantastic school in Bangkok. We love our first home in England. We loved living beside the Peak District. Yet we never quite settled in our motherland. Perhaps it had something to do with our happiness at work, perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was just knowing we could be living in Asia again instead. Whatever the catalyst for our move was, we are lucky enough to both want it. And Louis, our 9 month old son, is here for the ride.
Flying out of the UK almost required a bachelor’s degree in bureaucracy. We needed negative PCR tests, Visas, Certificates of Entry, specific insurance documentations, proof of quarantine, and countless other documents requiring identical information (all x3). Fortunately, we managed to get it all together and faultlessly navigated the airport with time to raid Boots for more formula milk. Note: the less said about the administering of Louis’ PCR test the better.
Before quarantine, we needed Louis to experience his first flights. This was our initial and immediate concern. He loved it, however. The first flight to Dubai was about him looking at the clouds through the window, being doted on by air hostesses, and catching him as he crawled down the gangway (only crying once when the toilet door opened on his head – his mum doesn’t know about that). The second flight was alright too, he just slept.
Upon arrival in Bangkok we disembarked the plane satisfied to have got him there with a smile on his face. Immediately we approached scores of blue plastic chairs spaced equally 2m apart. Again we had all of our documents checked before being directed by people in full PPE (Nicki describes the attire as ‘like a beekeeper’) to have our temperature checked, then to someone else for other documents, someone else for something else, before eventually having our visas checked. Nothing is more eerie than an empty airport doubling as a laboratory for double-vaccinated people who have physical evidence that they do not have the highly transmissible disease the whole process is designed to keep out. Despite my attitude, I am very impressed with the lengths Thailand is going to avoid an increase in Covid transmission here. Who knows how many lives would have been saved if the UK had a less laissez faire approach to international travel.
The first step out of the airport was joyous. The wave of heat and humidity instantly confirmed to me that we are home. Back where we should be. We were then bundled into a quarantine vehicle. *Bundled is not the right verb but I use it for dramatic effect*. In fact we were provided air conditioning, leather interiors and a baby seat for our 30 minute drive to 14 days of quarantine.
Our arrival at the hotel started the official countdown. Since we arrived before 6pm, our arrival day officially counted as Day 1. We were initially asked to sit on separate plastic chairs and have our shoes removed and placed into bags (in the same way a criminal removes his watch before a life sentence).
The hotel staff, in their obligatory ‘beekeeper’ uniform, kept an appropriate distance from their potentially Covid-riddled guests as they guided us towards our home for the foreseeable.
We had hoped that the hotel would take pity on us and upgrade us to a larger room. That was not to be the case.
Our first afternoon was a bit a novelty. Louis began exploring his new terrority in a dog-like manner (stopping short of cocking his leg in the corners) and we began unpacking our bags in an attempt to make a prison a home.
The first night was difficult as Nicki and I were suffering a cocktail of adrenaline, jet lag, exhaustion and apprehension. Louis was just jet lagged. This meant for a largely sleepless night. I can only imagine what he thought was going on.
We have been so impressed with the hotel’s desire to cater for all of Louis’ baby needs. They have committed to removing salt from his dinners and were proactive enough to by blending equipment to help us break down his food. The food for us has also been excellent, and abundant. This has made us even more glad of the exercise bike we rented from the hotel. Without it we may roll, rather than walk, out of here.
This was the day of the first of our 3 hotel based PCR tests, and the only times we will be allowed to leave the room. It was actually a shame that the first came so close to our arrival as we hadn’t yet succumbed to any cabin fever. However, we treated it like a day trip out – strapping Louis into his pushchair, walking really slowly to the swab room (including lunges and zig zags) and then ambling back as slowly as we could. We got a glimpse of the lovely hotel we are staying in.
Our first evening reminded us that living so far from family comes with some emotional sacrifices. We experienced Nicki’s dad’s wedding remotely via Zoom. Thank goodness for modern technology.
Day 3 – Day 7
Over the following days we managed to generate some kind of daily routine. Louis continued to struggle with jet lag, meaning 2am was playtime on most nights.
Breakfast would arrive at 8am. One of us would feed Louis whilst the other tried to catch up on some sleep. We then took it in turns to look after Louis for an hour whilst the other did something independently (read, wash, clean, work, learn, Tweet, watch, sleep, exercise etc.). This meant we had opportunities to do some of the things we naively thought we’d have all the time in the world to do whilst we were here.
Louis continued to love it here. The undivided attention of at least one of his parents at all times, as much food as he could wish to eat, the run of the room and all the doors within, and the air conditioning that he didn’t have at home. This alleviated any worry that he might be bored. In fact, we concluded that 9 months might be the perfect age to be cooped up in a hotel room because cupboard doors are interesting, curtains are hilarious and bike pedals are so unpredictable. I fear he won’t be so entertained in a few weeks time. Also, he has just started to lift himself up to standing so he has found so many pieces of furniture to practise on.
Louis’ naps took place in the room, which meant we tried to use this time to catch up on more sleep until he started to sleep better in the night. Once this happened we had some more time to ourselves.
We both made sure we did an hour of exercise a day on our afternoon hour off parental duty. This made for quite a structured day. Something like this:
Unbelievably this meant that the days were flying by. Before we knew it, it was time for Louis’ bath and bed and for us to inevitably sleep soon after.
One the 5th day we treated ourselves to a family tub of ice cream each. Both were polished off, resulting in satisfaction and guilt.
On the 6th day we also had our second PCR test. Once again we took our time over it but we are considering making Louis crawl to the next one to make it last even longer.
Day 6 also marked the day where we decided we cannot eat meat with every meal. As people who don’t generally eat meat at home (but don’t go as far as to be vegetarians), it was hard to eat so much. We have since taken on the vegetarian menu, and are so thankful for the vegetables!
Day 8 – Day 15
Day 8 was the first time we saw a mood shift in Louis. Up until this point he appeared to be loving living in a soft play area with doors to endlessly waggle and lots of fruit to get his new teeth into. He, being human, may have just been having an off day, but we predicted that he had just about had enough of being stuck in a small room. It was therefore fortunate that we had been granted permission to move into a larger room for our final week in isolation. Nicki branded this day ‘moving day’ and spent a lot of the day packing clothes that we unnecessarily unpacked on day 1. There was additional space in the bags due to the number of nappies Louis had excreted into.
That evening we were taken to our new room (also featuring a slow walk along the corridor) and sighed with relief to find it twice as spacious, and 100 times more comfortable. Having experienced the small room, this felt like luxury….a holiday even?
Louis loved being somewhere new too, and instantly stopped his whining as he searched for more doors to waggle and plug sockets to endanger himself at. That night, we had a Zoom quiz with new colleagues who were quarantining elsewhere in the hotel. I can only imagine how different their experiences, on their own, are from ours. I definitely think that, despite being difficult, having each other is preferable to being on your own. They can certainly get more done though.
We re-established our routine in the new room. But, unlike the previous week, we could give Louis his own room for naps and therefore talk to each other, watch the Olympics or play music whilst he slept. Somewhat liberating being able to make sounds in the daytime.
It is worth noting that the Olympics has been a fantastic addition to our quarantine experience. We are up in time to see some of the morning events and there is always something to entertain us during the day, even just as background noise. Nicki has even got into it. There is also the added smugness of knowing what is going on live, when people in the UK are catching up when they wake up.
In taking advantage of our new comforts, we have been able to interact with each other after Louis is in bed for the night. We got out our playing cards for some Gin Rummy before retiring ourselves. After a week of jet lag, Louis has begun to sleep through the night. 6 hours+ of uninterrupted sleep for us is new, and welcomed.
By Day 11 the countdown was on. We were within touching distance of freedom (under its own restrictions) and a beer – I didn’t mention that quarantine is an alcohol free zone. It was time for our final PCR test, and our final trip out of the room before the real thing.
During his time in quarantine, Louis appears to have: regained the weight he lost in his illness a month ago (and some), become more stable on his feet, settled into a better sleeping routine, started sharing and including us in his play, eaten food he would never have tried in the UK, grown some more teeth, more consonant sounds in his repertoire, started enjoying a shower, and grown some very curly locks. Living in what is essentially a giant soft play area for 24 hours a day has definitely helped him physically. It remains to be seen how he readjusts to ‘real life’ though.
As the final day drew closer, the days appeared to get longer. Despite this, our routine made every day bearable and we stumbled on to the end.
There is certainly a lot to complain about when locked in a room for 2 weeks. But, of all the people in the world, there are no others I would rather have been stuck with. This made it a somewhat bearable experience.
Although quarantine was hard, we were very well looked after. The staff in the hotel wanted nothing more than to make Louis comfortable throughout his stay, the food was abundant and varied, the days structured, and never once were any of us bored (Louis is unable to tell us if he was). Would we want to do it again? No. Will I cherish the memories of our first challenge in our new home? Always.
For anyone taking the plunge into quarantine with a baby, these are the takeaways I would recommend:
- Negotiate a structure to the day (either hourly or in-between naps).
- Have back-up food pouches in case the food isn’t quite baby suitable despite the hotel’s best efforts.
- Contact hotel in advance for sterilising machines, baby seat for transport, cot etc.
- Have your pushchair available in the room for some ‘walks’
- Drag out meal times
- Buy a headphone splitter so you can watch the same shows after the baby is asleep.
- Don’t expect to do, watch, read or sleep as much as you think you might.
Louis is now asleep for his final night in this room and we will be joining him soon. Work begins on Monday and I am really looking forward to getting stuck in. Next stop: freedom (of sorts).